Leadership Lessons #4 – Making it Personal

Several YES staff members have recently been reading and discussing Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which examines the interplay of shame and vulnerability and how the two impact our relationships, both professionally and personally.  Out of these discussions, there were some powerful takeaways for all of us, as leaders of our students and other staff members, for how we can bring our best and most authentic selves into our roles. 

Be yourself.  This can often be difficult, especially for young or new leaders who are still getting comfortable in their roles.  Often we are so busy trying to look like leaders, we forget that it’s not about the role, it’s about the person.  Our staff and/or students will be inspired and motivated to follow our lead only if they feel connected to us.  This means having the courage to let them see both our strengths and our imperfections.  So next time you’re feeling insecure at work, instead of trying to ‘fake it till you make it,’ reach out and ask for help and make a lasting connection that will move everyone forward together.  If you make yourself vulnerable enough to admit you don’t have it all figured out, your staff will start to, as well.

Lead by example.  Skewed ideas of what it means to be ‘the boss’ or our own insecurities can lead us to try to look authoritative or like we have all the answers.  When we do that, though, we’re inadvertently telling people that that’s what we value and what they should be striving to be, when it’s likely not at all how we would want them to develop.  Whether you’re a teacher leading students or a school leader, take some time, if you haven’t already, to identify the qualities you most want to see in your team.  Those should be what you model on a daily basis.  If you want your staff to be kind, accepting of feedback, and to have balanced lives, they need to see that reflected in you every day.  This is no small feat, so try identifying one quality that’s really important to you and focusing on that one in January, layer on another one in February, etc.

Eliminate shaming behaviors.  In any organization, there may be regular practices that shame people, whether we realize it or not.  When you think about how people or students are given evaluative feedback, the kinds of jokes people tell, how sarcasm is used, and the dynamic of hierarchical relationships, take some time to reflect on how different people might be interpreting these and other interactions.  If you’ve been at an organization for several years, it may be helpful to have someone from outside give you a more objective perception.  If there are practices that exclude or shame people, over time they will lead to disengagement and low morale.  Students will rarely excel in this type of environment and our staff won’t stick around for long either.

Praise people!  When you personally notice the efforts and accomplishments of your students and colleagues, it has a positive impact that far surpasses any amount of critical feedback you could give them!  People’s productivity and motivation are limited if they don’t feel valued and appreciated for their hard work.  Click here to read our post on Powerful Praise.

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